Religion

Post about Religious topics. My spiritual journey is a subtopic of this.

The Priest the Church Needs Today

You are the priest the church needs today:
For the fifteen-year-old girl
who was raped
by someone she trusted
who is just uncovering her pain,
and has no one to talk to
especially not a priest.

For the seventeen-year-old transgender woman
who thought the transition
would make everything better,
but still she lives
in the spotlight of loneliness
and wonders if it’s all worth it,
and has no one to talk to
especially not a priest.

For the thirty-seven-year-old mother
who loves her son with muscular dystrophy
more than she can bear
and needs a rest and a loving ear.

For the forty-five-year-old couple
whose life seems perfect
as they help with coffee hour
because they hide the bruises
from their bitter fights so well
and can’t talk to anyone about it,
especially not a priest.

For the fifty-three-year-old wife
whose life did not turn out as planned.
Now she has the same symptoms
her mother had
at the onset of her cancer,
and has no one to talk to,
especially not a priest.

For the sixty-two-year-old homeless man
who tries so hard
to address his substance abuse problems
and put his life back together,
but the ancient traumas are too great,
and no one understands,
especially not a priest.

For the eighty-seven-year-old widow
who has never, in all her life,
let her children know
about her child born out of wedlock
that they always called their cousin.
and it is too late to tell anyone
especially not a priest.

And every day, more people are hurt,
often by the church itself,
and you are needed to be
the priest they can tell.

Summer Reading and Listening

Yesterday, I handed in my last paper of the summer semester, so now, I have a few weeks of where I can read and listen to stuff for fun before I start reading for the fall semester. It seems like there is a lot on my list, so I thought I’d try to organize a little bit of it and perhaps draw others into a discussion about some of this.

Listening

In a few days, I’ll be heading off to Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, so I’m listening to play lists of performers who will be there, especially those in the Emerging Artist Showcase and who will be appearing on The Lounge Stage.

Also, last Thursday was the feat of St. James the Apostle, which got me thinking about caminos. I found a podcast I’ve started listening to, The Camino Podcast. It’s worth the listen.

Preparing for Sermons, Eulogies, and Sabbath

Unfortunately, I’ll miss the Performing Artists Showcase at Falcon Ridge this year because I will be at a memorial service for my father. He enjoyed the poetry of Robert Frost, so I’ll be re-reading a bunch of Frost’s poems as I prepare to say a few words there. Then, at the end of the month, I’ll be preaching on texts related to Sabbath. A couple of my classmates recently read Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now by Walter Brueggemann, so I’ve started that. Another book one of my classmates recently read is Soul Tending: Journey Into the Heart of Sabbath by Anita Amstutz. I’ve added that to my “Want to read” list.

Poetry

As I mentioned above, I’ll probably re-read a bit of Robert Frost Hopefully, I’ll add some others into the mix, like Mary Oliver, Ted Kooser, Naomi Shihab Nye, Sarah Kay, and maybe even some T.S. Eliot or Christina Rossetti. Suggestions are always welcome.

Dissertations and Syllabi

The reason I mention Christina Rossetti is that a friend of mine wrote his doctoral dissertation on “The Anglo-Catholic quality of Christina Rossetti's apocalyptic vision in The Face of the Deep”. I have that on my reading list, but I suspect I may not get to it this August. Likewise, one of my professors wrote his dissertation on Sin and Brokenness, Passage and Purpose: Reforms in Recent American Lutheran Rites for the Pastoral Care of the Sick. He also sent me the syllabus for a course he teaches on “Theology and Liturgy in the Digital Age”. It has a great reading list I will have to explore later.

Racial Justice

A couple friends have recently mentioned books they are reading related to social justice. One person mentioned Dear Church: A Love Letter from a Black Preacher to the Whitest Denomination in the US by by Lenny Duncan. It is high on my reading list for August. Also around racial justice is the book, White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo. These are both books that it seems would be best read in a discussion group. I’m wondering about online discussion groups, either on Goodreads or Facebook. Anyone up for such a group?

Affinity Groups Online and other reading

I recently finished reading Affinity Online: How Connection and Shared Interest Fuel Learning (Connected Youth and Digital Futures) by Mizuko Ito et al. I’m especially interested in discussing this book. I’d really like to talk about it in terms of personal learning networks, faith formation networks, and the future of the church.

The idea of online reading groups around racial justice is one such place to explore this. Another would be around climate justice. There are few books on this list, like one by my Christian Ethics professor, or another that friends are talking about called Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer

Preparing for the fall

And, when I get through all of this, assuming nothing else pops up on the list, or around mid August, whichever comes first, I’ll start reading for my fall courses. Some of those texts I’ve probably already read, and either need to be re-read, or read for the first time.

So, what are you reading?

Faith Formation Networks

One of the most exciting ideas I’ve come across so far in my studies at Church Divinity School of the Pacific (CDSP) is the Faith Formation Network. John Roberto, in chapter 3 of his book, Reimagining Faith Formation for the 21st Century presents this idea of Christian education in the context of digital media, connected learning, and personal learning networks. This is an idea I’ve had that I’ve been trying to find words for and an example of for a long time.

For me, this is something very different from parishes using social media to market their churches or even organizations using digital media to create and curate content. These are both components of a faith formation network, but merely components. The Faith Formation Learning Exchange gets us much close to finding faith formation networks, but if a faith formation network is based on a personal learning network, then it must be something individuals create for themselves.

There are various starting points for a faith formation network, and it seems as if many of the starting points right now seem to be focused on extending existing resources, like a church or seminary webpage or social media presence. It seems like we need some other starting points.

To illustrate this, let me relate an old marketing adage. People don’t by shovels, they buy holes. People buy things because they want or need it. They don’t need a shovel. They need to get a hole dug. The shovel that will be most helpful getting that hole dug is the one they will buy. We need to be thinking about experiences of the divine the same sort of way. People want to experience God. They want to experience forgiveness, acceptance, love, community, and many other things that we associate with God. For many people I know, church is probably the last place they would look for these sorts of things, with seminary coming in a close second.

Those of us who are drawn to God who wish to draw others to God need to think carefully about how people are invited into their faith formation network. To illustrate this, let me explore a little bit of my faith formation network.

I will start with one of the churches I currently attend, Grace and St. Peters in Hamden, CT. While not everyone will start there, and where you start probably doesn’t especially matter, especially if you are thinking of a faith formation network in the context of Deleuze and Guattari’s rhizome, it is where many people start. There are a few important things to point out about the church I attend on most Sunday mornings. We started attending that church because my wife was friends with someone from that church in an online community and that friend invited us to church. It was an example of someone from one online network inviting another person to another network, which in this case was not online.

Another thing to notice is that I mention Grace and St Peters as one of the churches I currently attend. On Thursdays at lunch time, I attend a Eucharist service at The Church of the Holy Trinity in Middletown, CT. On Saturday evenings, I attend vespers at Three Saints Orthodox Church in Ansonia, CT. I also attend a dinner bible study and worship on Thursday evenings with people from Andover Newton seminary at Yale Divinity School and participate in their closed Facebook group. In a faith formation network, people find many similar and competing resources across the religious spectrum.

As part of being a member of the CDSP community I help maintain and participate in the CDSP Virtual Daily Office. This is a digital resource which ties back to digital communities. I’m in a small closed Facebook group with a cohort of students who first arrived on campus in the summer of 2018. We talk about the daily office there and the cycle of prayers that is currently being used in the daily office comes from that group.

I am also part of a small group that I started on Facebook for people seeking discernment. Given the difficulties of my own journey, I started the group and it has grown. One person from that group has started studies at CDSP. All of this illustrates the interconnectedness of groups and resources in a personal learning network.

There are numerous other resources that are part of my faith formation network. A high school classmate whose blog I subscribe to. A friend from my young adult days in New York City has a blog, Water Daily that I subscribe to. I subscribe to some of the better known resources online, like Brother, Give Us A Word from the Society of Saint John the Evangelist and Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditations. There are a lot of resources like this that I subscribe to and I should probably find time to curate this list and make it more available.

There are also the various live streams on Facebook that are part of my faith formation network. Right now, one that I especially appreciate is Pop-up Prayer with Canon Katie. She identifies herself as ‘your Facebook priest’ and ends each pop-up prayer reminding people that they are “so loved by God”. It is a wonderful ministry and exemplifies much of what it means to be a node in a faith formation network. Another group of Facebook resources that I subscribe to is live church streams, perhaps best exemplified for me right now with Dallas West Church of Christ. This is the church where Botham Shem Jean attended and I started watching their streams as they remembered Botham’s life and called all of us to action.

Dallas West Church of Christ illustrates my point about shovels. I started watching their stream, not because I was looking for a church. I started watching their stream because I was praying for justice and their prayers and my prayers came together.

Next week, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry will be preaching at Western Mass Revival. I have been talking with the organizers about what happens after the revival. I’m particularly interested in this in terms of faith formation networks. We’ve set up a Facebook page for people who will be attending the revival, either in person, or watching the live stream. If you are attending the revival and want to join with us in a faith formation network, check out WMA Way of Love.

I hope to build upon some of this for a project for Postmodern Christianity and learn more about the role faith formation networks will play in my journey and the journey of those around me.

Whatever is right...

This week, I’ve been reached out to as the administrator of two different groups where things were getting divisive and nasty. In one group, I closed the comments and posted some thoughts. The original post ended up being taken down by someone else. In the other group, I simply deleted a post and shared my thoughts about the purpose of the group.

One of the groups is about the town I grew up in. I posted,

I remember growing up near the top of Henderson road. I often felt a social awkward and like a bit of an outcast. I remember when people picked on me. They called me names and threatened me. More often, I remember the kindness of people in a beautiful village overlooked by a majestic mountain.
The name calling and threats were not appropriate in elementary school and they are not appropriate here. Please join with me in helping make this place on Facebook as beautiful as the village we grew up in.

This resulted in a wonderful discussion. A few people shared memories of my late mother and we had a good time reminiscing. A few people spoke about having been bullied in school. One person confessed to having bullied people and asked forgiveness.

To that person, I responded,

Thank you for your response. I suspect that if we are honest, pretty much all of us have bullied people in the past, often in response to peer pressure.

The second group is for Christian seeking ways to share their faith in new ways in our secular world. I person posted a political video which started an argument about the current political administration in the United States. I posted,

I would like to remind people of the goal of this group. To quote from the description from early on, “Episcopalians need to get out more, talk about why they love the church, and have a pioneer spirit…we should seek out places where the church isn't known and plant seeds of hope and love.”
While our faith calls us to speak out about political injustices as we see them, this is not the place for it. Instead, this is a place where we should be exploring how we love our neighbors as ourselves; our Republican neighbors, our Democratic neighbors, and most importantly, our neighbors who are searching for God in this secular world, even if they wouldn’t use such language.

A friend of mine who alerted me to the post said in a private message (shared with permission),

I’d hate to see our little community just turn into another churning sea of discord. Perhaps it’s inevitable?

I responded,

I don't believe it is inevitable. Instead, I believe we are called to stand up against the tide of discord. To do this, we need to be intentional.

So, this is an invitation to all of us to intentionally stand against the tide of discord, to love our neighbors we disagree with, or, to quote Philippians,

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things.

A Way of Love for Aspiring Non-stipendiary Priests. #GC79 A007 and #MeToo

I pause briefly from my studies in the history of the 1789 American Book of Common Prayer to read the latest dispatches from the Episcopal General Convention. How does The Way of Love that Presiding Bishop Curry spoke about, the Liturgy of Listening in response to #MeToo, and the work of the Committee on Ministry relate to me?

I became an Episcopalian over forty years ago back when I was in college but my relationship with the denomination has been a bit rocky over the past few years.

I had started college believing I was called to ministry and planned to major in religion, go to seminar, and become a preacher. I changed majors to philosophy, dropped out, and ended up working with computers. Yet that sense of calling never left no matter how hard I tried to ignore it or make up excuses about how it just wasn’t feasible for me.

A few years ago during a guided meditation at a conference on poetry and worship at Yale Divinity School I had a strong sense of God telling me that my whole life has been about showing God love and that I really needed to answer God’s call. So I started the process, only to be rejected by the Commission on Ministry. I was never told why and not given any support in dealing with this spiritual crisis.

It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a college dropout in their fifties who needs to support a family to become a priest.

A few spiritual guides told me that I would not be happy until I went to seminary and taking their advice I searched around for a program that might work for me. I had taken an online continuing education course with Church Divinity School of the Pacific (CDSP) which I got a lot out of so I looked to see if they might be a fit for me. I decided to apply for their Online Certificate of Theological Studies program thinking it would be a good opportunity to see online seminary life was a fit for me.

After completing my first two semesters, I headed out to CDSP for a two-week summer intensive. The research I’m taking a break from is for one of those courses. I wandered the campus, met my classmates and professors, and was overwhelmed with joy. CDSP was exactly where I was meant to be. I put in my paperwork to change programs and am now officially part of the Low Residency Masters of Divinity Program. I am still not sure where it will lead, but sometimes it is more important to know you are in the right place heading in the right direction than to know where you are going.

One of my fellow seminarians who is at General Convention share a link to a blog post about the ”Liturgy of Listening”. I made sure to watch the livestream of the liturgy. It was incredibly powerful bringing up complicated reactions.

The wounds I carry from ‘the process’ are very different from the wounds we heard about in the liturgy and I want to be careful not to diminish in any way the stories of those hurt by sexual harassment, abuse, or exploitation, yet as I heard the stories, I thought to myself, “In my own way, #MeToo”.

Another blog post, by the same author, And Then, Silence: Reflecting on the Liturgy of Listening gave me a way of thinking about this that was very helpful. My wounds from ‘the process’ and the wounds of many others that I’ve heard about over the past few years are not as bad as the wounds of sexual abuse. In this context, my wounds are “not too bad”. Yet as the author writes, “Not too bad is a tragedy. We must be better than this.” I hope and pray that the “Liturgy of Listening” will move the church forward in addressing issues of sexual harassment, abuse, and exploitation. I also hope that someday the church will address the issue of those who feel called the priesthood, especially to non-stipendiary or bi-vocational priesthood and don’t see a way forward.

One way the church can address this is to seriously consider Resolution A007 Establish Committee to Study Relationship of Episcopal Seminaries with General Convention, One Another and the Wider Church. Objections to this resolution can be found in Deans Oppose Seminary Investigation

The Very Rev. Kurt Dunkle, dean and president of General Theological Seminary, said a top-down approach would not lead to good results. But he said the plan might have some promise if properly modified.

From my own experiences I can see problems with a top-down approach. Yet starting with a “Liturgy of Listening” to small parishes seeking non-stipendiary or bi-vocational priests and to people that feel called to such a ministry might be part of the modification that is needed.

The church does need to think more seriously and more creatively about how priests are called and formed in twenty-first century America, and Resolution A007 sounds like a very important starting point on our journey together on The Way of Love.

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